Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday ordered thousands of state workers to follow new guidelines for sexual harassment even as he refused to answer questions about whether he knew about allegations of misconduct against one of his top appointees.
Saying it is "disgusting to hear about the numerous accounts of sexual harassment happening across the country," the Republican governor issued an executive order that requires training for all new employees and puts in place a new procedure for reporting complaints. The order only applies to state agencies that answer directly to Scott.
But when pressed by reporters, Scott sidestepped questions about former Rep. Ritch Workman, a Melbourne Republican who abruptly resigned last week. Scott in September had appointed Workman to the Public Service Commission and he was scheduled to start his $131,000 a year job next month.
Workman resigned minutes after State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto put out a public statement saying Workman had touched her inappropriately and made "vulgar" comments to her at a 2016 charity event. While Workman said he did not recall the incident, Benacquisto called his conduct "abhorrent."
Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, had a private meeting with Scott and the governor's chief of staff in early November. But Scott on Wednesday refused to say whether or not she talked to him about Workman. Benacquisto has also declined to say anything more about Workman other than her initial statement detailing the incident.
"Ritch Workman did the right thing for his family," said Scott, but when asked about his meeting said "I'm not going to comment on conversations I have with members of the Legislature."
Senate President Joe Negron said this week that he did not become aware of the allegations against Workman until the weekend before he resigned.
Gwen Graham, a top Democratic nominee for governor, said "it's outrageous and inexcusable if Governor Rick Scott knew his handpicked appointee sexually harassed a senator, yet did nothing about it.
"Scott's refusal to simply answer yes or no only compounds the outrage," said Graham, who last week called for an overhaul of sexual harassment policies in Florida government. "On sexual harassment in any state government office, we need full transparency and zero tolerance."
Scott picked Workman from a list of nominees given to him by a nominating panel controlled by the state Legislature. Workman, who unsuccessfully ran for the state Senate in 2016, had been working for Keiser University. He gained a bit of attention in 2015 when it was discovered that he was working as a driver for the ride-sharing service Uber while still a legislator.
John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, has said the governor relied on the nominating council to look at qualifications and the backgrounds of candidates.
The state Capitol has been thrown into turmoil the last two months due to allegations of sexual misconduct. GOP Sen. Jack Latvala has been accused by six women of groping or making demeaning comments about their bodies. A top aide to the Senate Majority Leader has also filed a separate complaint against Latvala that is being investigated.